In Somalia where Nur Warsame comes from and in many Islamic communities across the world, being gay is not tolerated. It was, therefore, a matter of life and death for Warsame when he came out as Australia’s first openly gay Muslim leader in 2010.
A well-respected man in Australia’s Islamic community, Warsame used to lead a mosque in Melbourne, Australia. He was married with a young daughter but when he no longer wanted to live what he called a “double life”, he revealed his sexuality.
In Australia, people who are gay, lesbian or bisexual are protected from discrimination by law. However, many Australian Muslims, just like much of the Islamic world, are against homosexuality.
Thus, despite being a prominent imam for almost a decade and a Hafiz – one who knows the Quran off by heart – the Muslim clergy severed ties with Warsame once he came out as gay.
“Reconciling spirituality with sexuality is a very difficult journey,” Warsame, who no longer attends mosques, told The Feed.
“There’s the name of the family you have to protect, the name of the community you come from…
“The reason it’s difficult for people to come out in the Muslim world or Islamic communities is because the losses are too high, the risks are too great, I mean there is even a risk to your life because the conservative school of thought in Islam to counter homosexuality is to be killed, that’s your repentance…
“When I decided to do this, I really analyzed and thought carefully of the consequences.
“The idea is to make avenues and paths for other young queer Muslims to live their lives to the fullest and to hold on to their spirituality. My intentions are to try to make a difference in Muslim homes.”
Warsame has since been advocating for the rights of LGBTI Muslims, despite receiving death threats. In 2018, he disclosed that he is not able to travel due to security concerns, hence, he uses social media to reach people around the world, especially young Muslims who are facing violent resistance from their families and communities.
He’s been conducting workshops and talking to LGBTI groups nationally and internationally through his Marhaba Inc, an organization he founded that focuses on the welfare of LGBTIQ+ Muslims.
“I have been dealing with young people who have been excommunicated from their families,” he said. “That is when you have a problem.”
Warsame believes that the intolerance is due to old religious texts that described homosexuality as a sin.
“You are talking about an ideology that believes your repentance is to be killed,” he said in an interview with ABC News.
“One of the most essential things that our young people need is safe, affordable housing. For young people to transition safely they cannot be in the environment that is causing them the trauma,” said Warsame, who once had to provide shelter for seven gay Muslims in his one-bedroom apartment.
Warsame recently had plans of turning a building in Melbourne into a gay-friendly mosque, as well as a safe house and counseling center for gay Muslims.
“The idea is a place to provide healing and address the homelessness, the mental health issues, the self-harm issues, addiction issues.
“This is a plan that I have had for four years and thankfully we will see a tangible outcome soon. We have had some support from the state government but bureaucracy and intentions are never the same. But I am optimistic, I hope to have it achieved this year,” he said in 2018.
Hussein Hawli, who came out to his family as a teenager, said joining Warsame’s group, Marhaba, has helped him not to be afraid to embrace who he is. “Hearing Imam Nur speak up and say, you can be gay and be Muslim makes me incredibly happy and satisfied,” Hawli told BBC.
There is more in the following video: